The problem with trends in human society is that once a momentum is achieved, it cannot be easily stopped. It is when the situation has deteriorated almost irreparably that the realization comes that the trend has to be stopped.
Asian countries, particularly in Malaysia are fortunate they are not fully involved in this trend. Having seen the collapse and threat imposed through uninhibited freedom of speech, they should be able to observe and to balance freedom with responsibility for the true well-being of the Malaysian society.
The media are an institution in a democratic society. It informs people so that the people may be able to make informed judgements.
The government’s attitude to the press is predicated by the same concern for the public good. The press is free but that freedom may not be abused.
The press and the people should have the right to criticize the government so long that the criticism is valid and not be libelous or subversive or tending to instigate racial, religious or any other cause of violence.
It may be old-fashioned for the government to oversee the behavior of the press. But race and religion is a very sensitive issue. The open and provocation discussion of racial problems led to race riots in which 200 people were killed in 1969.
The instigators may have exercised their right, but why should they have this freedom to sacrifice other people live?
A responsible government must control the right of freedom of speech. But how is this to be done, especially in the world where one person’s opinion can reach millions of people in a tweet?
Previously we had the controversial detention-without-trial, the ISA to curb the extremists and the instigators. But apparently, some people advised the government to abolish it. And the government, in order to be popular, followed the advice.
We may have the Sedition Act. But this law is not a preventive measure, meaning that due legal process takes place only after the event.
The people who actually control the press may be the owner, or the chief editor and sub-editors, or the reporters or even the big advertisers. It is strange people often overlook the fact that these people have their own political views and agenda. Obviously, some of them want to shape the opinion of the public so as to be consistent with their views and beliefs.
Thus, it is only right if these people should be subjected to public scrutiny. After all, just like politicians, they have the access to the public and they can influence the people’s thinking.
The Printing Presses and Publication Act that require a license renewed every year should be expanded to online news portal. What makes them different than the mainstream printed presses? In fact, they are more mainstream in terms of readership and influence.
This is not an attempt to silence the critics, but when it comes to sensitive issues like race and religion, no one should be given a free hand.
The effect of new media today enables almost everyone who is responsible to no one but themselves the opportunity to say anything under the sun.
Ideally, self-control would be sufficient. But the ideal is not the world we live in. If the millions of people are to regulate themselves and be responsible for what they wrote, the relevant laws should be preserved, if not strengthened.
The phrase ‘I disagree with you, but will defend your right to say it’ must be replaced by ‘I will defend the right of the society if you choose to say something that is harmful to it.’